Every Friday, BULLETT’s introducing our favorite Instagram profiles and getting to know the people behind the posts.
Being a millennial is weird because while we sort of grew up with the internet, people born just five years after us were basically given an Instagram handle on their birth certificate instead of a name. And the tabloid magazine scandals we remember from childhood were swiftly replaced by non-news about Kylie Jenner’s wigs and Kim Kardashian’s believably nonexistent addiction to coke. Yawn. But there’s someone out there who remembers the Good Old Days when pop stars actually served jail time after crying in the back of cop cars, and their mugshots circulated for weeks––and that’s @popculturediedin2009. The throwback Instagram catalogues the best paparazzi photos and video clips from the ‘90s into the early aughts, before celebrity PR teams knew what the fuck the internet was. And it’s amazing.
Archiving all the iconic moments, Matt James, the poster behind the account got into tabloids because of his mom and older sisters. As a kid he became obsessed with the strangeness of celebrity culture––because back then, celebrities were actually beyond our reach. But with the rise of social media and a faster-paced news cycle, the 19-year-old believes the draw of Hollywood gossip has pretty much died. His account is basically a tribute to the days when celebrities couldn’t just post an Instagram story for attention––they had to actually play with the media. Scrolling down his profile highlights how subtle celebrity shade was then compared to the sub-tweets we see these days––and it just really makes me miss Lindsay Lohan pre-activism and faux accent.
Name: Matt James
Lamest tabloid celebrity: Justin Timberlake––I always thought he was the douche of all douches. Ashton Kutcher too.
Favorite tabloid celebrity: Mischa Barton––I was a huge OC fan.
Most calculated tabloid celebrity: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston played it best. People view them as above the fray, but from what I’ve seen and heard, I think they are all way more manipulative with the media than you’d ever assume.
Craziest tabloid moment: Paris going to jail, solely for that picture of her crying in the back of a cruiser. It was a glorious moment in pop culture. And Jamie Lynn Spears getting pregnant.
What inspired you to archive celebrity tabloid moments from ten years ago?
The magazine industry was at its peak then––it was a perfect storm. While paparazzi and magazines were already popular, they didn’t reach anything close to the madness that was the 2000s, when all the magazines became weekly, and where there was such a huge demand for paparazzi pictures. So it really just became out of control in this out of control celebrity culture.
How do you think social media and reality TV have impacted celebrity gossip?
I think magazines and gossip sites have really lost their way with where social media is at today. You just scroll through your Twitter feed and see every single headline you need to know, so there’s no point in going to a celebrity gossip site now. And reality TV has changed so much from what it used to be––I still miss the shows I saw when I was young where it was just people living their lives and it was so incredibly boring, but there was something really endearing about it. The scripted drama we have now just isn’t fun.
Do you think the rise of the Kardashians contributed to real celebrity gossip dying?
When they first premiered the show in 2007, Kim was always presenting it like a modern day Brady Bunch––something that everybody could really relate to and just a regular down-to-earth family, albeit living in Calabasas. They definitely presented themselves as more lowkey than the Hiltons who had this old money air. And it came at a really important time because it was right on the fringe of the recession. So a lot of the celebrity lifestyles we’d watched for so long on TV just went out of fashion because nobody wanted to see these extravagant lives while everyone else was suffering.
Do you think celebrities killed the tabloid industry by documenting their own lives online?
There’s no mystery about what famous people are doing anymore, whereas before social media came around, you had to wait for the magazines and the gossip sites to post candids showing someone grocery shopping––and that was your reminder that celebrities are ‘just like us.’ But now with the pictures they post, whether they’re eating, taking a shit––we’re constantly reminded that they’re just like us. So what’s the point?
Why are relatable celebrities so unappealing to you?
It’s a sneaky image. Jennifer Lawrence presents herself to be just like us, but she’s also getting paid millions just to appear in a movie. So she isn’t like us at all––that image is a contradiction in itself. And the reason we’re so fascinated with celebrities is because we’re so confused by their lives. At one time, it seemed like celebrities were plucked out of a strange world and given their status. We weren’t sure what was up with Britney or Michael Jackson, and that’s why we kept reading for more. Today there isn’t really an equivalent to that.
Do you think we’ll ever return to tabloid-style news instead of the current culture of social media oversharing?
It’s hard to tell. Could you have predicted this era of oversharing celebrities ten years ago? I think it’s nearly impossible for that to happen since social media isn’t going away. Is there any way to go back to not oversharing? It seems beyond the realm of possibility.
What’s even in magazine tabloids nowadays?
I think they’re more reality TV-driven now than they were during the Heidi and Spencer days. Flipping through an issue of Star or Us Weekly, it’s almost entirely random people from HGTV or VH1––half of them I’ve never heard of. So it seems to be over-saturated with reality stars versus Hollywood celebrities like it used to be, and they’ve become a lot less scandalous. It’s very boring. I don’t know a more sophisticated way to address it.
How do you think the rise of identity politics and social consciousness has impacted celebrity culture?
I think the rise of social consciousness is a good thing, but it gets exploited a lot. The Kardashians exploit the idea of feminism to shy away from other legitimate criticisms that come their way and I think so many people harp on words and ideas without analyzing the bigger picture. There are so many genuine criticisms you can make about the Kardashians and their racism, but they hide behind the idea of feminism and a lot of people just buy into the buzzword.